Where is the power in a suit?

It’s hard to separate suits from a profound sense of obligation.

I’ve always lived in places for which they are thoroughly, climatically, ill-suited. Yet they are still donned on the regular. As a signal that something is being taken seriously. Or that wearers take themselves seriously.

There’s a separation there, which has historical roots. But makes less and less sense with mass production and the shift of power away from the West.

The expectation-filling that guides (forces?) people to wear suits to work, weddings , court and interviews also seems thoroughly at odds with the notion of it as a symbol of power.

I’ve never seen this articulated as powerfully as in this Vox piece on the decline of suits:

Although the suit is historically associated with projecting elegance, authority, and mastery of a profession, those qualities hearken back to the days when suits were prevalent, worn by the Atticus Finches and Don Drapers of the world. How long until we realize the suit — while still used for special occasions and by a shrinking number of traditionalists — has become associated with the opposite? The suit has become a uniform for the powerless….

….When you’re in control, at least in relative control, from the C-suite down to the long rectangular table in the open-air office, you wear whatever you want, which is almost never a suit. It is the vest or bomber jacket for men , a blouse or a shell top for women…

There is a class element here – which the piece goes into. After all, the decline of the suit as de facto serious person attire is largely taking place in a handful of industries, countries and social strata.

And, just as with school uniforms, there may be something to say for suits as something of a leveller. As a well-beaten path into “respectability“.

However, as suits become less normalised, and more explicitly worn for unpleasant occasions like court, will the association become more sour? Will the power of suits leech even more?

Yet another benefit from educating girls

In many households, the oldest sister is one of the first family members to acquire any schooling, making her an important source of help with studies at home. Surveys show that only one out of five children who receive help with studies from a family member get it from a parent. When parents are not the ones helping with studies, the oldest sister fulfils that role 70% of the time. Given the low education of parents, and the oldest sister’s role as a childcare provider and tutor, one might expect oldest sister’s schooling to meaningfully impact younger sibling learning and development.

This is from research into the benefits of educated older sisters in Pakistan. Specifically in rural areas, where three quarters of mothers and two fifths of fathers were uneducated.

Javaeria Qureshi from the University of Illinois found that having an educated older sister increased a primary-aged brother’s years of schooling, ability to read and write, and add and count.

These oldest sisters’ schooling effects are the same order of magnitude as those for maternal schooling. Interestingly, increasing the oldest sister’s schooling has no impact on older brothers’ educational outcomes, indicating that the younger brothers are not benefitting merely from being around more educated family members or because their parents are increasing investments in all of their children’s education. Instead, the results suggest that younger brothers’ education improves because they have a more educated childcare provider, tutor and role model in their oldest sister. 

This is an important finding not only due to the number of children not being educated in Pakistan, but the gendered nature of education in many countries.

Women are often presumed to have a lower return on education due to a lesser propensity to work and support parents later etc. This can be especially important in resource constrained families even if there isn’t a prejudice against educating girls.

But as is so common, there’s stuff we haven’t or couldn’t measure, the world is complicated and factors interrelated. Beyond the individual benefit of educating a girl, it appears to be positive sum for the family.

As always my emphasis.